I always carried pride in Alabama, the state where my great-great-grandfather settled in 1885 to service the miners of Brookside, the state I adorn red and white for every Saturday. The Alabama I grew up in always seemed so much better than the Alabama I was berated about in Boston. It’s easy to judge from afar, I always said.
Amos Starr was born in Friendship, Alabama in 1909 and Mary Norris was killed in Camp Hill, Alabama in 1947. Giles Scott was born in Trinity, Alabama in 1917 and McKinley Fox was killed in Glendon, Alabama in 1937. I was born and raised in Alabama, but until working with CRRJ, I hadn’t heard of Friendship, Camp Hill, Trinity, or Glendon. I also hadn’t heard of Ohatchee, Eight Mile, Ethelsville, or the vast majority of municipalities where the victims I encounter were born and murdered.
I’d been so shielded from the Alabama I once thought I knew. Shielded from the Alabama where Willie Edwards was forced by Klansmen to jump off of the Tyler-Goodwin Bridge to his death. Shielded from the Alabama where Timothy Hood was murdered for removing a Jim Crow sign from a crowded public bus. Shielded from the Alabama where Ike Williams, George Teague, and Charles Harris were killed by county police within a single month.
In October, however, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project held a symposium in my hometown of Birmingham. From around the state victims of racial violence and their descendants gathered to share their stories and to be heard. The Birmingham Chief of Police, A.C. Roper, even apologized for the extrajudicial murders committed by his department in the Jim Crow era.
What I’ve lost in pride, I’ve gained in hope.